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Córdoba: In Spain, loss of Roman Empire’s largest palace to make way for a high-speed-train station still hurts | Culture

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Aerial view of the palatial area at Cercadilla on May 22, 1991, two days before the bulldozers moved in.
Aerial view of the palatial area at Cercadilla on May 22, 1991, two days before the bulldozers moved in.Rafael Hidalgo

It was a massive, brutal attack on Spain’s historical heritage; an unmitigated plundering of a national asset that left “an open wound,” according to Camino Fuertes, an archaeologist from the Andalusian Agency of Cultural Institutions. Fuertes on Tuesday delivered a talk, Thirty years after Cercadilla, to mark the destruction of the Roman imperial palace of Córdoba, built by Emperor Maximian Herculius between the years 293 and 305.

“It’s tremendously painful,” adds Ana Zamorano, president of the cultural association Friends of Medina Azahara, which organized online events to observe the date, such as Cercadilla, The Loss of Innocence. The complex, which sprawled over eight hectares, was razed in May 1991 to make way for a high-speed AVE train station in Córdoba, in the southern region of Andalusia. Spain’s inaugural AVE line was being built from Madrid to Seville to coincide with the fact that the latter city would host the 1992 World Expo.

A minor railway station had already been occupying part of the site since the 19th century. The stop included a small building, a platform, a parking lot and a railway junction that allowed for a change of direction. Then, on May 22, 1991, following the decision to replace the old station with a new one that would accommodate the AVE, the excavators came in to dig up the earth and destroy the ancient palace and its surroundings. Archaeologists worked flat out to try to save what they could. But within the space of a few days, an area spanning half a kilometer long by 200 meters across had been destroyed. There were media reports about the destruction of tombstones, mosaics, a Roman theater, a temple, a circus, an amphitheater and a palace.

Scale model of the Cercadilla palace complex in Córdoba.
Scale model of the Cercadilla palace complex in Córdoba.R. Hidalgo / J. A. Ortega

The archaeologists excavating the site slept next to the remains to try to prevent their demolition and posted ads to save a site “larger than Trajan’s Forum in Rome,” according to Rafael Hidalgo, co-director of the dig. But the local, regional and national authorities’ decision was final, and there was no room for appeal: the AVE high-speed train from Madrid to Seville, where the Universal Exposition was to be inaugurated in 1992, had to stop in Córdoba in that exact spot, no matter what.

“It was nothing short of plundering,” says Fuertes who participated in a talk organized by the Municipal Institute of Tourism of Córdoba. “A fake news campaign was orchestrated against the site. It was said that if the site was not razed, the AVE would never reach Córdoba; that what was found was worthless; that archaeologists were getting rich on the excavations; that the remains were going to be incorporated into the station and, finally, that all the railroad tracks would be rerouted. It was all absolutely untrue.”

A ring with the seal of Bishop Samson, from the 6th century, found at the Cercadilla site by archeologists.
A ring with the seal of Bishop Samson, from the 6th century, found at the Cercadilla site by archeologists. Camino Fuertes

The mayor of Córdoba at the time, Herminio Trigo of the United Left (IU), called the site “a bunch of rocks.” The magazine Época published a story in March 1992 that said neither the central nor regional governments, both run by the Socialist Party (PSOE), did anything to save the site. Rather, they looked the other way and even defended the destruction. In September 1992, an international commission of experts stated that they could be looking at a unique world monument that should be respected and studied. “It was the largest one in the entire Roman Empire,” said Hidalgo along with the other co-director of the dig at the time, Pedro Marfil.

Meanwhile, the Jesuit archaeologist Manuel Sotomayor, winner of the Andalusian government’s Historical Heritage Award, described Cercadilla as “an impressive excavation.” And Miguel Rodríguez-Pantoja, a professor at the University of Córdoba, said it was “unique due to its size, the period in which it was built and its enormous significance. It is hard to believe that it will be destroyed.” Juan Ojeda, a lawmaker for the conservative Popular Party (PP), denounced the authorities’ policy of “fait accompli” and said that “Córdoba has to know the truth. What is about to be destroyed is unique in the world.”

Gallery of the Roman cryptoportico in the palace of Emperor Maximian in Córdoba in the area that is still preserved.
Gallery of the Roman cryptoportico in the palace of Emperor Maximian in Córdoba in the area that is still preserved.Camino Fuertes

A huge seat of imperial power was built at the end of the 3rd century AD at a location 600 meters northwest of the walls of the settlement of Patricia Corduba. This was to be the political center of the Diocese of Hispania, and it was the point from which Maximian ruled the entire peninsula and North Africa. The palace complex was divided into two main areas. The first was a huge rectangular square with military features connected to the palace area. To access the latter, it was necessary to go through a gate with large towers on either side. The palace area was linked by a cryptoportico – a semi-circular covered gallery with columns – 109 meters long that provided access to the complex’s various public and private buildings.

According to Hidalgo, “the great exedra [the semicircular portico with columns] constituted a large open square, free of buildings, which acted as a reception area for those who enjoyed the privilege of accessing the interior of the palace, allowing the distribution of transit to the different reception spaces surrounding it through its portico.”

A Google image of the Córdoba station overlaid with the location of the imperial palace and a nearby amphitheater.
A Google image of the Córdoba station overlaid with the location of the imperial palace and a nearby amphitheater.

After passing through the cryptoportico, visitors could choose between three different transit circuits: the public one, composed of official buildings; the semi-public one, with two areas for banquets, or the private one, consisting of smaller rooms, such as the baths. Fuertes points out that the throne room where the emperor held receptions was located at the center of the official buildings.

In the 6th century, as the Roman period came to an end, three of the complex’s buildings were converted for Christian worship, possibly in honor of the Córdoba martyr and patron saint of the city, Saint Acisclus. The temple had a large cemetery around it containing hundreds of tombs. During the Caliphate period starting in the 8th century, Christians continued to occupy its buildings until 1010, when a civil war forced them to leave.

Skeleton of a Christian buried in Cercadilla who lived during the Caliphate years (756-929), bearing an axe wound to the head.
Skeleton of a Christian buried in Cercadilla who lived during the Caliphate years (756-929), bearing an axe wound to the head.E. A. Cercadilla

In 1991, the archaeologists asked for the site to be declared an Asset of Cultural Interest (BIC), the highest possible heritage protection. They even took out an ad consisting of a list of signatories calling for the urgent protection of the site. But the regional government of Andalusia did not respond. In 1995, when more than half the site had been bulldozed, the Ministry of Culture opened a protection file. In 1997 it was declared a BIC. “It was one of the few imperial palaces that existed in the world,” says Fuertes. “We can no longer do anything about it. It is a wound in the heart of Córdoba that we have not yet known how to heal.”

In 2006, the archeological remains that were saved from destruction and which lay on the other side of the station’s exterior wall – baths, more than 80 meters of the cryptoportico, the imperial apartments, the triple apse rooms at the end of the palace area and an aqueduct – were opened to the public.

Digital reconstruction of the view of Maximian’s palace from the walls of Córdoba in Roman times.
Digital reconstruction of the view of Maximian’s palace from the walls of Córdoba in Roman times.Rafael Hidalgo

In 2015, the Andalusian regional authorities unilaterally transferred the management of the archaeological park to the city of Córdoba, which keeps it closed. Since then there have been no maintenance policies implemented or conservation actions taken. “Imagine that the palace had been completely preserved,” says Fuertes. “Imagine that Córdoba received visitors getting off the AVE with the remains of the largest Roman imperial palace known to exist…”

In an article published in February 1992 in the daily Diario de Córdoba, Professor Rodríguez-Pantoja wrote: “It won’t be long before we will seem to our own children as barbaric as those who made so much greatness disappear [in Córdoba] with fewer means and knowledge.” It will now be 30 years since those prophetic words were uttered.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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Taiwan: Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader who imposes her agenda on Biden | International

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Party discipline is very elastic in the United States, as President Joe Biden well knows. Leading Democrats, almost always the usual suspects (Joe Manchin, Kirsten Sinema), behave like loose cannons, tripping up White House-sponsored bills and sometimes derailing them, but none had gone so far as to push the world to the brink of an incendiary conflict. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives and third authority in the country, was awarded that dubious honor thanks to her controversial visit to Taiwan last week, in which she confirmed her commitment to the free world. “America’s determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad,” she said last Wednesday in Taipei. Pelosi added the US “will not abandon our commitment to Taiwan and we are proud of our enduring friendship.” But there is concern in Washington about how China will respond to these statements.

Pelosi is one of the heavyweights of the Democratic establishment. She has been a member of Congress for California since 1987, and has served twice as House Minority Leader, between 2007 and 2011, as part of Barack Obama’s term, and in 2019, she became the first woman to be the speaker of the House. Therefore, despite Biden’s warnings about the inconvenience of visiting the island, her initiative does not seem like the decision of a novice, but rather one that responds to her own agenda, and probably also to that of Congress, including many Democrats, in favor of a more determined support for Taiwan than that offered by, in her opinion, timid Washington diplomacy. Hawks from both parties are pushing Biden to toughen his policy on China and the Senate had planned to send $4.5 billion in military aid to Taiwan last week, as well as declaring the island the “main non-member NATO ally,” but the commander in chief has asked for containment so as not to further fuel the fire around a self-governed island that Beijing considers its own.

Politics runs in the family of Nancy Pelosi. Her father, Thomas D’Alessandro, was a prominent Democrat at the time of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. Pelosi is her married surname, also of Italian-American origin and she is faithful to certain cultural traditions such as a large family (five children) and a cultural Catholicism, though not exempt from friction with the curia, such as her defense of the right of women to abort. Like Biden, he too, a Catholic, that position has caused him more than one headache. The first, being denied communion by the archbishop of his diocese. In late June, on a visit to the Vatican, Pelosi, dressed in stark black, took communion at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. There are no images of the communion, which was confirmed by two witnesses next to her, but Pelosi and her husband were photographed with the pontiff before the Eucharist.

After graduating in Political Science in Washington in 1962, Pelosi spent six years raising her children in New York. The Pelosi family moved to San Francisco in 1968, where she began her career as a Democratic volunteer. She was soon recognized for her talent in fundraising campaigns, a key factor in the success or failure of a politician in the US. From there she made the leap to the Democratic National Committee, the party’s bridge of command, and, shortly after, to State Congress. Leader of the party in Congress since 2003 – another breakthrough of the glass ceiling – Pelosi uses her personal experience to arbitrate between opposing factions of the formation. She calls it the “mother of five children” strategy.

Despite the balance that she advocates in favor of party unity, she has given numerous signs of aligning herself with the most open or liberal faction – although the affiliations are sui generis in the US, without allegiance to the precise definition of the concept –, voting in favor of arms control measures and the right to abortion, or against the war in Iraq. Her critics accuse her of “west coast leftism.” The political microclimate of San Francisco, like that of Washington, was one of the targets chosen by Donald Trump to successfully attack the Democratic elites alienated from ordinary Americans.

Pelosi is a wealthy member of the elite. Her husband, businessman Paul Pelosi, owner of the Sacramento Mountain Lions football team, has been involved in several financial operations that sometimes border on insider trading. At the end of July, Paul Pelosi sold nearly 5,000 shares of chipmaker Nvidia for $4 million, just days before the House approved a major legislative package that provided subsidies and tax credits to boost the US semiconductor industry. This is not the only dubious example, but the Speaker of the House has always closed ranks with the father of her children, even after he was arrested in May in California for being drunk while driving a Porsche that was involved in an accident. The leader’s husband pleaded not guilty last week in court.

After the arrival of Obama to the presidency, and during the financial crisis, Pelosi helped the president carry out his stimulus program, worth $787 billion, in February 2019 in Congress; and a year later, the health reform known as Obamacare. Pelosi has never spared support for social measures such as those that Biden encourages today. Her role was also decisive in preventing the closure of the Administration during the last stretch of Trump’s mandate, when she managed to twist his arm. In January 2020, she opened the proceedings of the first impeachment against the Republican, of which he was acquitted, and a year later, she championed the creation of a commission to investigate the assault on the Capitol by insurgent Trumpists.

In the US, representatives are responsible to their constituencies and voters, rather than to the party and, of course, to any other earthly or heavenly authority. Faced with the dilemma posed by the conservative Archbishop of San Francisco, also Italian-American Salvatore Cordileone, retracting from defending the right to abortion or taking communion, Pelosi has responded by qualifying the repeal of the Roe v. Wade ruling by the Supreme Court as “outrageous and heartbreaking” a decision. The fact that Pelosi doesn’t shrink even before a world power is evidenced by her decision to visit Taiwan.

Translated by Xanthe Holloway.

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UK government honoured anti-abortion figure before editing women’s rights statement | Global development

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The British government presented a vehemently anti-abortion former US envoy with an award for his services to freedom of religion just days before watering down a statement on gender equality to remove commitments to reproductive rights.

Sam Brownback, a former governor of Kansas who targeted abortion rights while in office and then became Donald Trump’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, was given the award during the international ministerial conference for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) held in London last month.

Organised by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and opened by the Tory leadership candidate Liz Truss, the gathering has since become engulfed in controversy after a statement signed by more than 20 countries was quietly removed from the FCDO website and significantly edited.

Conference organiser Fiona Bruce, the prime minister’s special envoy for religious freedom or belief, with Sam Brownback in background, 5 July 2022.
Fiona Bruce, the prime minister’s special envoy for religious freedom or belief, was involved in organising the conference. Photograph: Courtesy of FCDO

It has now emerged that a number of participants to the conference, which Fiona Bruce, the prime minister’s special envoy for religious freedom or belief, was involved in organising, are known for their strong anti-abortion views.

Three, including one speaker, were from ADF International, the global wing of a US legal advocacy organisation considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), which monitors extremist groups in the US.

Founded by leaders of the Christian right, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has long opposed abortion. It writes on its website: “In 2022, the pro-life movement achieved what was thought impossible by many: the overturning of Roe v Wade. But there’s more work to be done.”

Other participants were from the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), a rightwing thinktank based in Washington DC, which, alongside the ADF, is pushing for more laws protecting anti-choice medics from performing “procedures in violation of their conscience”, from abortion to gender transition surgery.

Ján Figel, a former EU special envoy for FoRB, was among the speakers. Figel’s mandate was not renewed in 2020 after a group of pro-choice MEPs complained he had “undermined [the mandate’s] credibility … by showing highly problematic acquaintances with organisations opposing women’s sexual rights and LGBTI people’s rights.”

Figel said the MEPs’ criticism had been rooted in “false arguments … based on lies”, and added that he had nothing to do with the statement.

It is understood that Brownback, who received warm applause at the London conference, was given the award by the UK government in conjunction with the Dutch special envoy for FoRB, Jos Douma, in recognition of their work on FoRB around the world.

While in office, Brownback signed a number of pieces of anti-choice legislation. Last week, he bemoaned the decisive victory of pro-choice campaigners in a Kansas referendum on abortion, adding: “We fight on defending all life, mother and child, from beginning to end.”

Sam Brownback speaking at the conference, 5 July 2022.
Sam Brownback speaking at the conference, 5 July 2022. Photograph: Ottr Works/Courtesy of FCDO

According to one participant at the London conference, who requested anonymity: “The UK government says it advocates ‘freedom of religion or belief for all’. But some of those featured and celebrated at the ministerial don’t support this. What they do instead is use their ‘religious freedom’ as an excuse to trample the rights and freedoms of others. People like Sam Brownback and the ADF, who seek to take away others’ freedom of choice in this way, should be challenged, not celebrated.”

The conference is an annual gathering that began in the US during Trump’s presidency. This year it was held on 5-6 July.

Its agenda was centred on how to “protect and promote freedom of religion or belief internationally”, with topics ranging from the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China to the terrorist attacks of Boko Haram in Nigeria discussed by academics, analysts, politicians and faith leaders, including the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

But its aftermath has been controversial, since it emerged that its statement on FoRB and gender equality had been edited to remove commitments to “sexual and reproductive health and rights” and “bodily autonomy”. The FCDO initially said it had made the changes to focus on key FoRB issues and to achieve a broader consensus of signatories.

FCDO minister Lord Ahmad
FCDO minister Lord Ahmad said last week the statement had been edited to become ‘more inclusive of all perspectives and views’. Photograph: Courtesy of FCDO

Tariq Ahmad, a Foreign Office minister and former FoRB special envoy, said last week the statement had been edited to become “more inclusive of all perspectives and views” and “to allow for a constructive exchange of views on all issues”.

However, the watering-down of the statement, which had been painstakingly worked on and signed by more than 20 countries, provoked anger in a number of governments, many of which are refusing to sign the modified version. It currently has eight signatories, including Malta, where abortion is illegal, and the UK.

It is understood that the pushback on the gender equality statement began the day after the conference, at a “next steps” meeting at Lancaster House, convened by Bruce. Among those present were Jim Shannon, of the Democratic Unionist party, and David Alton, a crossbench peer, who were also conference speakers.

After the overturning of Roe v Wade, Lord Alton told the Universe Catholic Weekly he hoped the decision would lead to “new laws and resources” in the UK.

Rachael Clarke, chief of staff at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said the vast majority of British people saw through the “fiction” that there was significant opposition in the UK to abortion rights. But words mattered, she added, which was why there was concern over the conference statement.

“I think what we’ve really seen when it comes to abortion rights is the power of words and the power of the direction that governments are moving [in] … I think what we really are concerned about seeing is any indication from this government or the next government that they are valuing women’s reproductive rights as less than where they are currently,” she said.

Clarke added that, with Bruce as special envoy, it would have been hard for the government to put out a statement on freedom of belief that was not inclusive of “incredibly anti-abortion views”. “[Bruce] is the most anti-abortion MP in the House of Commons.”

A spokesperson for Brownback said he had no involvement in drafting the conference statement or in organising the event. Brownback was “proud to be pro-life”, a stance that is “immaterial to his support for freedom of religion or belief”, he added.

“Ambassador Brownback has not tried to connect his support of unborn human life to the issue of religious freedom … Ambassador Brownback believes that anyone can support FoRB regardless of their position on abortion. At a time when people are being killed and persecuted for what they choose to believe, Ambassador Brownback believes that the FoRB movement best moves forward by focusing on FoRB and not diverging into non-FoRB issues.”

The ADF denies the accusation it espouses hate, accusing the SPLC of besmirching “huge swaths of well-respected, mainstream, conservative America” in that categorisation of its beliefs.

A screen showing the logo of the conference.
The conference’s agenda centred on how to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief internationally. Photograph: Courtesy of FCDO

A spokesperson said: “As the world’s largest organisation committed to protecting religious freedom, ADF International were proud to take part in the ministerial. Our current projects include defending girls in south-east Asia who have been abducted, forcibly married, and ‘converted’ from their faith; challenging the Russian authorities for prohibiting church communities from gathering to worship; and supporting those on death row for ‘blasphemy’ in Pakistan to escape to safety in Europe. We believe in the equality and dignity of all people.”

Nathan Berkeley, communications director of the RFI, said the thinktank worked to advance religious freedom throughout the globe and to defend those of all faiths who were persecuted.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “We invited experts and representatives from a wide range of different fields and beliefs to the conference in the spirit of fostering positive discussion and collaboration on issues of freedom of religion or belief.”

Bruce, Alton and Shannon did not respond to requests for comment.



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FBI Handovers – 09.08.2022, Sputnik International

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On Monday, the FBI, for the first time in history, conducted a search of the home of a former president, which took place at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. After the raid, Trump issued a statement denouncing the incident and accusing the US court system of using it as a weapon against him.

Following the highly controversial FBI raid on the property of Donald Trump, many US conservatives and members of the Republican Party expressed their indignation on social media, reiterating claims that the former president had been unfairly targeted by the agency for political purposes.

And while the White House said it had no idea about the raid, and President Joe Biden refused to comment on what happened at all, many noted law enforcement officers have never visited either Biden’s son Hunter or his partners regarding his purportedly rather dubious international business dealings.

But here’s the mystery, why did the FBI need to take the unprecedented step of invading the home of the former president? Reports say the agency took documents and boxes in the raid, likely the same ones the National Archives were looking for that Trump’s team allegedly took from Washington last year.

Conservatives, on the other hand, recalled another scandal involving the misuse of confidential data and recklessness by a high-ranking official – Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state – and her infamous lost and leaked emails. Back then, Clinton set up her own email server instead of using the government-issued one because it allegedly offered her complete control over her correspondence. And, not surprisingly, her staffers purportedly deleted some emails that, by law, were supposed to go to the archives.

A 2016 FBI inquiry found that while Clinton and her staffers handled sensitive information with “extreme carelessness,” no “reasonable prosecutor” would pursue a criminal case against her.

Well, while they’re looking into the former president’s boxes at Mar-a-Lago, we can all hope that maybe the FBI will soon be able to find the time to not only recover Hillary’s lost emails, but also determine the coordinates of Jimmy Hoffa’s burial site – that is if they’re not too busy, of course.



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